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Lee Jung-Jae is the First Korean Actor to Win the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Lee Jung-jae has become the first Korean actor to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his role in the global phenomenon Squid Game. In another notable milestone, he is the first to win the award for a non-English-speaking role.


Lee won the award by beating out a host of talented competition. Additional nominees in the category included Jeremy Strong (Succession), Brian Cox (Succession), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Adam Scott (Severance) and Jason Bateman (Ozark). While any one of the six could have justifably taken home the award, Lee’s win cements his status as a breakout star in Hollywood, and likely places him among the list of top-tier talent that has made the transistion from the South Korean market to the United States.

While Lee has been a well-known star in South Korea for decades, it was his role on Squid Game that garnered him international success and made him a household name outside of Asia. Lee starred in the series as Seong Gi-hun, a down-on-his-luck chaeuffer who is unable to pull himself out of a grippling gambling addiction. Broke, in debt to some dangerous people and with no other options, Seong turns to the Squid Game, a contest in which people must compete in a series of deadly games. The last contestant left alive wins a massive cash prize of $45 billion Korean won that will set them up for life overnight. As the series progresses, Seong must form alliances with other players in order to survive. This includes people like Kang Sae-byeok, played by HoYeon Jung, who also recieved an Emmy nomination for her performance, and Cho Sang-woo, played by Park Hae-soo.

RELATED: Lee Jung-Jae on His Acting Journey, the Most Emotional ‘Squid Game’ Scene to Film, and Making His Directorial Debut With ‘Hunt’

Lee’s critically acclaimed role has garnered him not only tonight’s Emmy Award, but also a heap of other industry nods as well. For his performance as Seong, Lee has also won a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor and a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series Drama, though the award would ultimately go to Succession’s Jeremy Strong. Lee was additionally included in many additional industry accolades as part of ensemble nominationss given to Squid Game itself, including an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama Series.

As Lee now looks to continue making a name for himself on American screens, the actor has not taken long to find his next big role. It was recently announced that Lee will be joining the upcoming Star Wars series The Acolyte for Disney+, alongside Amandla Stenberg and Jodie Turner-Smith. While Lee’s character in the show, like most Star Wars-related things, is being kept under wraps, he is expected to have a singificant role in the series, which is reportedly due to be released sometime in 2023.

The massive success of Squid Game – it became Netflix’s most-watched series ever, with more than 1.65 billion streams – also meant that the streaming service green lit a second season as soon as possible. While details on Season 2 of Squid Game remain slim, Lee is confirmed to return as Seong, and it is likely that other familiar faces from the first season will be back as well.

The 74th Emmy Awards took place on Sept. 12 in Los Angeles, where they aired live on NBC and are also available to be streamed on Peacock. The trailer for Squid Game can be seen below:

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